Monday, May 1, 2017

Culinary Symposium, 2017!!!!

I was fortunate enough to attend the Society for Creative Anachronism's West Coast Culinary Symposium this year.  The last time I attended was in 2014, and I wrote about it here.

This time I had a better idea of what to expect and was excited to see that they had planned a Roman feast for the Saturday night dinner.  They also were scheduling a number of interesting classes for the weekend.

The Friday dinner was a Traveler's Feast, which means a potluck and boy, what fun it was!  The hosts provided some soups and bread and the rest of us brought more goodies.  As I learned last time, it was an opportunity to share with our fellow enthusiasts the products of our kitchens.

The time period is pre-1600 and the represented cultures were numerous.  There were medievalists, Roman Empire re-enactors, Vikings, and Renaissance representatives.  And probably more but I was not adept at recognizing them all.

Here is a sample of the Traveler's Feast.

(Above)  Clockwise from the top:  Gravlax, apple tart, whipped cream with fresh berries, pickled cabbage, pickled cucumbers, honey-ginger carrots and parsnips, pickled asparagus.

(Above) Clockwise from the top:  Honey-ginger carrots and parsnips, sausage, pork and apple pie, date ball, chickpeas with cheese, gravlax, pickled turnips and leeks, homemade cheddar with some mustard, quince preserves, apple tart, and a preserved meat.

My Viking friends had made the gravlax to share, and it was wonderful.

There were homemade cheeses, soups, breads, pickled vegetables, and fruits.  Some of the foods weren't "period"  (see the tomatoes) because some people were traveling and couldn't bring something homemade with them.

It was all good!

My contribution to the feast was the dish with chickpeas and cheese.  I'll write about that in another post.

Since Friday was arrival time, people came in throughout the evening and so the food choices changed accordingly.  It was nice to see my friends and meet new ones.

Saturday morning found me up early and hanging out in the dining hall.  I discovered that Master Cariadoc's beverages of julap and sekanjabin were still available.  Julap is basically a simple syrup flavored with rose water and it is lovely.  I discovered it was good to add to my morning tea and was exquisite in hot cocoa.

Sekanjabin is a simple syrup mixed with wine vinegar and mint.  His recipe is found here.

What a delightful way to wake up!

Then the food began to be set upon the serving table.  I loved the drama of this shot:

The eggs were joined by breads, spreads, fruit, and some leftovers from the Friday dinner.

That little jar by the fruit was a very thick, aged balsamic vinegar. I enjoyed it drizzled over the fruit.

Here is the menu for the Saturday breakfast.

A close up of the dried beef.  It was crispy!

My helping, part one.

See the drizzle on the fruit?
This is the broth and sops.  It was a sausage soup and you poured it over bread in your bowl.  The bread is the "sops".

I was surprised to see there were date balls left over from dinner.

After breakfast and clean up, it was time for the classes to begin.  My first class was on Roman Fast Food.

The teacher, Claudia, has a reproduction Roman brazier used in cooking at what were Roman restaurants and fast food businesses.  She had it modified to meet state fire safety requirements; that is, it is higher off the ground.  This also makes it easier to use without straining your back.  Some of the more interesting features of it are listed with the pictures.

The back of the brazier.  Notice the grills are removable.  The rings are for supporting pots that are big enough not to fall through.  She mentioned that tall containers of water could be set inside, too.

The front of the brazier.  The bars above are adjustable and perfect for holding skewers of meat or vegetables.  When not needed, they are moved down to the front (see below).

You can see the adjustable bars moved out of the way.  Here Claudia is using a blowpipe to encourage the coals.

The design is convenient enough to cook the lentils in a pot on a trivet, right over the coals.

We also cooked some meatballs, which we fried but could have placed on skewers.

You can see that the removable grill came in handy to support the fry pan over the coals.  You can see that, had she wanted to, Claudia could have four containers of food cooking at once.  In a very minimal space.

Claudia has done her research, including traveling to Roman sites and viewing the museum collections and archaeological digs.  Here are two books she brought as references:

All the other classes I attended did not give me the opportunity to take pictures as I did with the Roman Fast Food class because they kept my hands busy!  But they were good and I learned a lot. Next up was The Evolution of the Kitchen.  Then came lunch.

It consisted of Roman pickled vegetables, mustard, and preserves.

But wait!  There's more!  The cooks handed each of us our own flatbread plate with different kinds of meats and homemade cheeses.

A clever and intriguing presentation
Why yes, there was a class that was taught on charcuterie, and we were able to sample some of their wares.  Some of the Friday dinner and Saturday breakfast meats were from that topic, too.

So the idea was to add the pickled vegetables and et cetera as accompaniments to the meat plate.

After lunch was a keynote speech (my pictures of her speaking turned out poorly).  I thought the speaker was dynamic and interesting in expressing her support and encouragement of people experimenting and exploring historical cooking.

Then I attended a class called "Redacting Dutch Sauces."  Yes, the focus was on Dutch sauces but the main point was to help you think your way through the steps of redacting, which included getting a clear picture of the goal before you start cooking, considering your options, judging the quantities according to the goal, and (my weakest skill) writing down what you are doing as you are doing it and keeping good notes.

One well-made point was that two people redacting the same recipe using the same ingredients may end up with two dishes that taste very different from each other, just because of the choices they make on quantities and what tastes right to their tongues.

My last class for the day was on making sauerkraut and other fermented foods.  While listening to the teacher's life experiences with brewing, fermenting, and preserving, we prepared our own sauerkraut to take home.  Mine turned out to be tasty and, fortunately, not too salty.  It was fun to see the lacto-fermentation occur and everything get all bubbly.

Then came dinner.  That Roman feast I mentioned earlier.  It was amazing and tasty and intriguing and good!  I was so full from all the other meals and classes throughout the day that I wasn't sure I could do the feast justice.  Fortunately I could take small servings and still get a good taste of everything.

The first course was olives and a cucumber salad.  A pleasant way to get your saliva flowing.  I thought I had taken a picture of them but I can't find it.

Next came the bread salad.  This was feta cheese and herbs in a sauce served over bread that had olives baked in it.  That could have been the rest of the meal for me!

But no, the third course was lentils cooked with artichoke bottoms, and sausage with pine nuts.

The fourth course was chicken with what looked like leeks and herbs in a sauce.  It, too, was tasty.

What I thought was bacon turned out to be leeks (I think).
And when we thought we were bursting and couldn't eat another bite, the fifth course was dessert, a Roman style cheesecake served alongside dried cherries and also dates with honey and a bit of salt sprinkled on it.

The cherries did not make it into the picture.
I enjoyed that the cheesecake was really not sweet but more like a slightly fluffy cheese dish.  The poppy seeds were a nice touch.  The dates reminded me of the recipe I made a little while ago, Dates Alexandrine, except it didn't have the almonds inside.  But I still loved the honey glaze that included a bit of salt.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting with friends, listening to the "Mortal Peril" competition, and getting an impromptu talk on Brewing Monastic Ales.  Complete with samples!

Sunday was a short day.  It started off with breakfast, of course!  Some leftovers from dinner (more bread salad!) and two special hot dishes:  bread pudding and ham-and-cheese strata.

Of course, more julap and sekanjabin throughout the Saturday meals and at Sunday breakfast.

Then off to a class where we created our own Hippocras and learned more about flavored beverages.  Mine turned out quite good and was even approved by my guest taster (at home) who is particular about the wine he drinks.

As I said, I had a lovely time, a fun and relaxing weekend, I loved the food and fellowship, and made new friends.  It was a privilege to spend time with such knowledgeable and experienced people and I was honored that they would share their skills with me.

I came home full of scents and flavors and ideas and am all charged up to explore historical cooking even more.  Success!

The End:

Sadly, it had to end.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Royal Paskha -- A Russian Easter Treat

Happy Easter!

I looked through my cookbook library to find something interesting and fun to make for my Easter post and found an appealing recipe in Russian Cuisine, by Lydia Lyakhovskaya.  I received this book as a gift when friends traveled to Russia to adopt their daughter.  I believe it was originally published in Russian and then translated to English.

ISBN 5-8194-0010-0
I used this book before when I made a Baked Cottage Cheese Pudding.

Yesterday (because this is a "make it ahead of time" dish) I put together this recipe,

Royal Paskha  (page 132)

2 cups butter
5 or 6 egg yolks (I used 5)
2 cups sugar
4 cups cottage cheese
1 1/4 cups heavy (whipping) cream (I used 1 cup)
100g (3 1/2 ounces) each raisins, almonds, and candied peel
cardamom or vanilla

Rub butter with sugar until white gradually adding egg yolks one at a time.  Rub paste until sugar completely dissolves, add vanilla or minced and sifted through a fine sieve cardamom for flavour.  Add cottage cheese twice grated on a fine shredder, raisins, almonds, candied orange peel or grated lemon rinds.  Mix thoroughly, add whipped cream and stir from top to bottom.  Fill the paste into a special paskha mould over a slightly wet gauze, cover it with a saucer, press by a small weight and refrigerate for 12 hours.

My Notes

I let the butter come to room temperature.  The almonds had been blanched so I chopped them and toasted them.  It seemed to me that the extra nutty flavor would be a positive addition to the mix.  I used 2 ounces because that is what I had.

I chose to use cardamom and decided to use 1/2 teaspoon.  Also I had no candied orange peel so I used the finely shredded peel of one medium-sized lemon.

Here are the butter and sugar before they were "rubbed" together using the mixer.  I was curious as to how white they would actually get!

Yes, that is one entire pound of butter.
This is their level of whiteness.  It was surprising to me.  This was after I let the mixer run and run and run just to make sure the ingredients were well mixed.

I thought the butter would make it yellower.
While the machine was still running, I added the yolks one at a time and allowed each to be thoroughly mixed before adding the next.

Look at the volume in the bowl.  That will change soon.
I didn't check that the sugar was dissolving; I took it on faith that it would at some time.  The cottage cheese was very wet on top which caused me to use less cream when its time came.

Everything but the cream makes a full bowl.
I chose not to grate the cottage cheese since it was small curd and really wet.  I hoped the long time in the mixer would break it up and incorporate it well.

One note about the cream:  the recipe called for heavy cream (30%) and the translation said to mix in the whipped cream.  I had seen another recipe that called for the cream but did not ask for it to be whipped so I just poured it in.  Besides, I didn't think my mixer's bowl could take any more volume.  And that the mixture would be weighted made me think it wasn't a good idea to whip it.

I should have made a half recipe but I didn't.  My goodness, it made a large quantity of paskha!  I don't have a traditional paskha mould, although the other recipe I saw mentions you can use a new, clean, large ceramic flower pot.  The traditional shape is a pyramid.

So I used one medium mixing bowl and two smaller dessert moulds.  I lined the moulds with damp cheese cloth and the mixing bowl with a damp white cotton cloth.

Mixing bowl.
Full mould.

Partially filled mould.
Once I found a place for each in the refrigerator, I placed a weight on top of the bowl and one mould.  The other mould was only partly filled so I decided to see what it was like without a weight on it.

The weight was heavy but low so it fit under the shelf.
The next morning I removed the two smaller versions and put them on plates.  Each required a little tidying up (wiping the edges of the plates, smoothing out some bumps and dips on the paskha) and then I decorated them with a few raisins, fresh mint leaves, and slivers of lemon peel.

Rounded fluted edges
From above
Sharper fluted edges

From above
The Verdict

I expected it to be heavy.  I expected it to be rich.  I expected a sweet cheese "pudding" of sorts.

I was surprised!  It was much lighter than expected, probably because of the close to 10 minutes of continuous beating with the mixer.  It was rich but not overwhelmingly so.  The three guest tasters all agreed it was good for a few bites and then the richness kicked in and our taste buds were satisfied.  Like a good cheesecake, a little goes a long way.

The flavor was delightfully lemony.  The cheese and butter provided a creamy base and the sugar made it lightly sweet.  I was glad I toasted the almonds because they contributed a little umami to some of the bites.  I wish I had put in more cardamom (1 teaspoon?) because I couldn't really taste it.  However that might have been too much competition with the lemon.  The raisins were an occasional chewy counterpoint.

The texture was grainy visually but nicely smooth to the tongue except when encountering the nuts and raisins.  They kept it from being too uniform in texture.

The weighted mould's paskha seemed to have shaped to the mould better than the unweighted one.  Both were thicker and drier than I had expected when I ladled the mixture into the containers the night before.  I was happy to have used the cheesecloth for both as it made getting the paskha out of the mould easy.  I just jiggled the cloth gently all around the edges, put the plate on top (with the cloth out to the sides), and flipped the whole thing.

I have not yet turned out the larger bowl of paskha.  I think I will take it to work tomorrow and share the goodness.  If I were to do this again I would make a half recipe (3 yolks) unless I knew I was feeding a crowd.

Success!  Wonderfully so!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Egg Preservation -- Month Three

At the end of March I pulled out two more eggs from my egg preservation experiment.  (See original post here.)

The "crust" had formed on the surface again.

But it broke up easily and I picked out one egg coated in Vaseline and another that was left plain.

The shell of the coated egg felt like a normal eggshell.  The plain shell felt very rough.

Vaseline on the left.
I had originally decided to put them into some sort of baked good but I had several guest tasters and they wanted to try the eggs just as eggs, so I cracked them into a bowl. I really wanted to see what they were like before committing them to the fry pan.

I noticed that the whites were very runny for both eggs.

Vaseline egg

Plain egg on the right.
I also noticed that the shells felt like they cracked easily; in fact, more easily than I expected and the shells felt "thin."

They looked good and smelled good so I went ahead and fried them.  I tipped the eggs from the bowl into the pan and, in both cases, the yolk broke.  I was being careful so it felt like even the yolks were fragile.

I cooked them to "over medium" and served them up with no seasonings or sauce.

The Verdict

To be honest, I could taste the cal.  However everyone else thought they tasted just like regular eggs, including the one guest who is a "super taster".  So maybe my imagination is working hard, but I swear I could taste a mineral addition with every bite.

I would not want to eat them without salt and/or ketchup but the others were quite happy with them as they were.  We declared it a success and expressed amazement that the eggs have been sitting, unrefrigerated, for three months with the only downside of really runny whites.